The Herald-Dispatch

If you’ve read The Herald Dispatch or watched the news recently, you’ve probably noticed the new excitement and energy at Heritage Station. The charming historical railroad complex on the corner of Veterans Memorial Boulevard and 11th Street is coming alive with new shops and events.

In recent weeks, you’ve heard about the conversion of the Red Caboose into an artisan gallery, the opening of a new artisan bakery, a cigar store, a furniture studio and event planning business, a photography studio, and a specialty gift store offering custom embroidery. In the coming weeks, you’ll undoubtedly learn of more exciting businesses opening at Heritage Station. All of these support a wonderfully eclectic mix of existing shops: an antique store, spa and art gallery, tea room, custom framer, salons, service companies and our community’s visitors center.

This development is an example of what Huntingtonians can accomplish when we work together. The project has included the efforts Create Huntington, a grassroots community organization; Marshall University; the city of Huntington; Unlimited Future; the Cabell Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau; the shopkeepers at Heritage Station; and the Greater Huntington Parks and Recreation District. To reach this point, it has required everyone to set aside egos and personal interests, and to form a partnership focused on creating a unique destination that showcases the ingenuity and creativity of our area.

The work began a few years ago when people attending the Create Huntington Chat ‘n’ Chews clamored for new shops and shopping experiences. They called for small, locally owned boutiques with unique products and services, and personal, interactive buying experiences — in essence the exact opposite of what is available at mass market retailers. These opinions were supported when students and faculty at Marshall surveyed students to determine what they were looking for in a downtown shopping district.

At the same time, and often at the same Chat ‘n’ Chew, the voices of these potential shoppers were met by a chorus of artists, artisans, and entrepreneurs who were seeking a place to sell their goods and services. These prospective businesspeople did not see themselves is viable candidates for more established retail areas. They needed an environment that provided the cost structure and support that would maximize their likelihood of success.

Armed with this information, volunteers from Create Huntington met with representatives from the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Parks and Recreation District to discuss the opportunity. These officials greeted the idea with optimism, eagerness and a desire to work together. After several months of planning, officials announced their intent to redevelop Heritage Station into a destination retail center where shoppers could browse an eclectic mix of boutiques, cafes, galleries, and shops; and see, touch, taste, learn about, and purchase the work of local artists, artisans, growers, and entrepreneurs.

The plans for Heritage Station were quickly integrated into the city’s efforts to develop a pedestrian walkway to connect Pullman Square with Heritage Station and incorporated into the on-going efforts to redevelop Harris Riverfront Park. The shopkeepers at Heritage Station, both new and old, began working together to host events and activities, and to cross-promote one another. And Unlimited Future, the area’s business incubator, stepped up to provide training and counseling for the entrepreneurs.

Together, these individuals and organizations, working in a spirit of partnership, listened to what the community wanted and found innovative and creative ways to turn a once-sleepy corner of Huntington into a lively destination and to increase the vitality of Huntington’s downtown retail market. By ignoring the fear that their efforts might fail and by shunning those who said that “it couldn’t happen here,” those involved have taken another step to making Huntington a wonderful and unique place for us all to live, work, and enjoy.

If you’d like to find ways to make a difference in your town or if you need a place where your ideas and voice will be heard, we invite you to attend a Create Huntington Chat ‘n’ Chew. They are held from 5:30 to 7 p.m., every Thursday in the lobby of the Frederick Building, 940 4th Ave.

Thomas McChesney is a Huntington resident.